Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dear Teen Me

Anderson, E. Kristin, and Miranda Kenneally, eds. Dear Teen Me. San Francisco: Zest Books, 2012. Print.
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Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves

My Thoughts
I'd been hearing about this book, so I ordered one for the library. A few kids checked it out, but it didn't fly off the shelf like I hoped. At TLA this year, I bought myself a copy since I could get it signed by E. Kristin Anderson (yep, this is one I didn't give away to my students). So, it has been on my "summer reading" stack. Now that I've read it, I can book talk it and more kids will read it. I have some in mind that I want to make sure they do!

This book is a collection of letters that various authors are writing to themselves. I noticed two things: many of the authors have Texas connections (yea!), and I felt like I was reading my own past. It amazed me how many similar situations these authors had with my own teenage years. If I could craft a letter to my teenage self, I would include some of the same advice these writers did. This book really made me think about my teenage years. What would I do or not do? How would I take those "lessons" and live through them when it seemed impossible at the time? I kept thinking about people I shared the hallways and classrooms with that I never really knew, and how unfortunate that is. I kept thinking of my best friends in high school and how we leaned on each other through those trying years (and some of them are still best friends!).

I liked that some of these writers I've never heard of, but I shared their stories. I was surprised by a few writers that I did know (Ellen Hopkins' story was unexpected.) and enjoyed getting a better glimpse into their personal lives. I liked the pictures because they mostly looked familiar, too.

As an adult reader, who thankfully survived the teenage years, I could appreciate this book.
For a teen, I think this book gives hope. I can't wait to share it with them (and I might be buying a few copies for some friends to relive their teen years).

As I finished the book, I found out there is a "Dear Teen Me" blog. Yep, I've started following that, too.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Little Chapel on the River

Bounds, Gwendolyn. Little Chapel on the River. New York: Harper Collins, 2005. Print.
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My Thoughts
I believe that I read books when I am supposed to read them. I just finished this book, and it occurred to me today that this week is 9/11. The event is a catalyst that made this story even happen....strange how I read it and finished the book so close to the anniversary of the devastation. When I started this book, I had no idea. This was another ARC that I decided this was the summer to read it!

This turned out to be non-fiction, but it reads like a novel. The author Gwendolyn (Wendy) lived in NYC just blocks away from the World Trade Center. When the terrorists attacked, she was forced to leave her apartment. She ended up renting a house in Garrison, New York--a commuter train ride away from the city. Bounds worked at The Wall Street Journal. This training helps her capture the essence of Garrison, and more specifically the Irish pub, Guinan's, in this sleepy book with surprising life revelations.

Guinan's is not only the local pub, it is the place where quite a collection of characters come for comfort and safety and "family." Jim Guinan is the proprietor. His battle with diabetes puts the future of the bar into question. What will become of this place if Jim dies?

Each of the regulars have reasons for coming to Guinan's. The writer herself becomes attached and works the store to help the family. Guinan's is the "chapel" of the community. (The title reference is on page 57). It is a simpler place, yet the longer Bounds is there, the more she understands that these people are more than their first impressions. In the city, she had "all these gadgets in the world to help [her] save time, and yet somehow there was never enough time for everything" (Bounds 59). She genuinely gets to know and care for the "regulars" in the bar and even "wonders if all [her] smart gadgets have actually made [her] stupid" (Bounds 132). 

Each chapter has a title that threads the story. My favorite title is "Human duct tape."(Bounds 222). She explains that "bit by bit the human duct tape that keeps this place together tightens its hold" (Bounds 222). I love the imagery.

I enjoy Fitz's "heh, heh, heh" and the curmudgeonly, gruff exterior he presents.   I admire John & Margaret's devotion to their dad. I like how as Bounds realizes things at Guinan's, she weaves her own narrative to the story, and they actually become one thread instead of two.

My personal revelation character is Walter. At first, I thought him a bit eccentric. Then, I realized that Bounds was describing my dad. Walter explains all of the work needed to repair nail pops in the wall. When Wendy questions the amount of work involved, Walter, just like my own dad says, "It's the RIGHT way to do it. Haven't I taught you anything?" (Bounds 241). Later Wendy hears in her head Walter saying, "If you take care of it, it will take care of you" (Bounds 255). My dad says, "if you take care of it, it will last forever."

So, another advanced reading copy in my stack that finally got read. The writing is vivid and I feel like I enjoyed a pint at the bar with the regulars. I wondered about the bar and found that Bounds has a blog. This is what is posted there, "'Is the chapel still around?' That's the first thing readers ask after finishing my book Little Chapel on the River. about Guinan's Pub & Country Store in Garrison, N.Y. For a long, sweet while, the answer was 'yes.' But on January 31, 2008, Guinan's closed after nearly 50 years of defying time and predictions thanks to the generosity of the family who ran it."  I'm glad that Bounds visited and recorded the history of the place as she learned it , and I'm glad I got to "visit" the place through her book.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Burgess Boys

Strout, Elizabeth. The Burgess Boys. New York: Random House, 2013. Print.
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Plot summary (from the inside cover)
"Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim & Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan--the Burgess sibling who stayed behind--urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever."

My Thoughts
My book club picked this book to read. We'd read Strout's Olive Kitteridge, so I was excited to read another story by the same author. 

This is the story of siblings Jim, Bob & Susan Burgess. I wrote my thoughts, and then realized that if you read this blog, you might not have a clear idea of what the book is about, so I included the inside cover description. I'm always afraid to give too much away when I'm writing about a book. Usually my "My Thoughts" section is a personal reaction to what I've read or interesting revelations I saw through the characters. I seem to always learn something from reading a book, whether I liked the story or not. I liked this story.

Bob & Susan are twins. Jim is the older, protective brother. "Your Uncle Jim will take care of you. That's what he does" (Strout 158). Each sibling has a story--a past that has created their present. However, when one sibling confesses that the remembered past is not accurate, each of their lives shift. This is a huge tectonic shift! One truth can change a person.

Strout creates three dimensional characters in a mostly believable story about multiple generations of a family.  What seems like a "slice of life" story actually carries through years. Readers can relate to this story because we all have some degree of dysfunction in our families.  We might not share the same story, but we can relate to the circumstances.

The sub-story that brings the siblings together is that of the awkward teenager Zach . He has done a bone-head act against the Somali community that now lives in his hometown. This act now has him facing federal charges.  Big brother and lawyer Jim will take care of this. He thinks.

I kept thinking about the research Strout must have done to write this story. Who just knows that the Somali people didn't have a written language until 1972 (Strout 130)? There are many layers to the story that would require some research (Somali, parasites, expressions). There was a lot going on in this story (which is divided into four books).  There are several characters that seem minor, but play a pivotal role in the narrative. Nothing is mentioned in the plot summary of Pam, Helen or Steve--the people who married into the Burgess Family. I marked several things the characters did and said. I felt like I visited Shirley Falls, Maine.

I liked the way the story unfolds. It is not predictable. Life isn't. Thanks to Elizabeth Strout for another enjoyable story.